When Environment Minister Nick Smith said in Parliament that some waterways – like Auckland’s Lucas Creek – are not worth saving because no-one wants to swim in them, he forgot to ask the locals we met last week who have put hours of work into restoring Lucas Creek river to health for their community so that it is safe to swim in once more.
The fifth stop on our tour of rivers in our Swimmable Rivers campaign, this river’s name is Ōkahukura, although it’s also known as Kaipātiki and Lucas Creek. It’s our first urban river, on the North Shore of Auckland, and it means a great deal to many people. It is a beautiful and substantial waterway that runs from the outskirts of urban North Shore, through the suburbs down to the Waitematā harbour near Greenhithe. The river has been hugely important to manawhenua and other local swimmers, rowers, kayakers and food gatherers. It was once impacted by farming runoff in the catchment, but is now the dumping ground for large quantities of sediment and heavy metals from urban subdivision and other developments. Despite these impacts there are a number of groups dedicated to the restoration of the water quality and biodiversity of Ōkahukura/Lucas Creek.
My first visit last week was to Greenhithe Playcentre where I had great fun playing with the hose in the sandpit with the kids making rivers. I also talked to parents about what swimmable water meant to them.
Then I met with Waicare and Healthy Waters staff from Auckland Council who talked to me about the work they have done with community groups cleaning up stormwater and planting the banks of Ōkahukura. I learned that great work is being done in places along the river and some developers are adopting low impact design to reduce sediment and stormwater impacts. However the rules still allow some very destructive developments. I checked out some good examples like Hooten Park and the “cages” of soil and plants that form a kind of wetland and help process the stormwater in some areas.
Overall however the massive development of suburbs and shopping areas around Albany have badly affected the river.
A very environmentally-committed kayaking company (Canoe and Kayak) kindly took Green MPs James, Julie Anne, Barry and myself for a trip up Ōkahukura along with Upper Harbour Local Board member Nicholas Mayne and City Councillor Wayne Walker.
We paddled through brown water up to the exquisite waterfall at Kells Park. It was a very hot afternoon – perfect weather for a swim had the river been in better shape. At the public meeting that night we heard from many local groups who are passionate about the goal of rivers that are safe for swimming, including Friends of Lucas Creek who have been working on that goal for more than a decade. There was a very lively discussion about urban design that can protect waterways and make them the living heart at the centre of urban communities rather than the drains that receive the debris of ugly soul-less expansion.
The commitment of the people who came to our meeting is being undermined by the current Government rules and if the Resource Management Act is furthered sabotaged by this Government, it will be worse for places like Ōkahukura/Lucas Creek at the frontline of housing sprawl. It is clear that examples of good design exist and that rivers can be restored and healthy in urban areas. Ōkahukura/Lucas Creek deserves to be one of those rivers and its communities are doing their best, but without proper subdivision rules, monitoring and enforcement the water quality will not match the volunteer passion. I would love to swim at that waterfall one day and it’s only poor design, greed and lack of political will that delays that possibility.